Three Secrets plays like a knock-off of A Letter to Three Wives, only without the writing. Secrets‘s problem is mostly with the writing. There are the three women–all of whom have secrets, except actually only two of them–played by Eleanor Parker, Patricia Neal, and Ruth Roman. The secret is each put a child up for adoption (on the same day) and now the child might be alone on top of a mountain, following a plane crash killing his adoptive parents. The kid’s turning six on the day of the present action, so there are three flashbacks to the women’s past–except only two of them tie together, which leaves the third–Ruth Roman’s–sticking out, just like her character sticks out. She’s particularly mistreated by the film, sort of disregarded, and if director Robert Wise had properly configured the film, she’d be even smaller (and maybe not played by Ruth Roman, who’s good, but deserves a better role). Properly, Three Secrets would juxtapose Eleanor Parker and Patricia Neal. Parker’s got a husband (not the baby’s father), a loving but overbearing mother, and she can’t have kids anymore (which the husband doesn’t know, so maybe that secret’s the third one, since Roman doesn’t have a secret). Neal’s a successful journalist whose career got in the way of her marriage. Had the film been about Neal becoming her own story and Parker’s conflicts with her mother and so on, Three Secrets might have been something better.
It wouldn’t have been great, however, since Wise doesn’t know what to do without a big budget. Three Secrets is visibly cheaper–lots of backdrops standing in for nature, lots of indoor shooting–and Wise doesn’t do anything interesting to make the film visually dynamic. He shoots it straight and unimaginatively. For film buffs, there is a sequence in Three Secrets Wise later did again in The Andromeda Strain. The film does show a pulse–when Parker’s family conflicts are off-screen–once some reporters show up. It’s a great newspaper or radio movie, but it’s not supposed to be about the journalists, it’s supposed to be about the three women. When they get together at the end, for maybe fifteen minutes, the scenes are good. Neal’s the central character and she’s good with both Parker and Roman, but she’s so level-headed throughout, the other two women have a couple nice moments the film should have expanded on. The most interesting part of the present action would have been the three women sitting around worried, but we only get a few minutes of it.
The acting from the three women is all good. Depending on the scene, Parker or Neal is better. The supporting cast is mostly in the flashbacks and of that cast, Ted de Corsia is good. In the present action, Edmon Ryan as a rival reporter and Katherine Warren as Parker’s mother are both excellent.
Three Secrets takes place over a nerve-racking thirty-two hours and it never gives the audience a single moment of dread. Everything is positively resolved for everyone, which is fine enough, but it happens immediately. There isn’t even the pretense of anyone thinking or considering their life-changing decisions. The film needed to be written as a play, just to get the pacing right, then filmed. As it stands, it has some good acting and some strange directorial choices.